Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Now is the Time

Now is the time--memories must wait, for now we have the end of a present and the beginning of a future in our hands. Now is the time for us to declare what kind of America we will be--there is hatred in the air, there is fear of new thinking on public policies, there is a desire for a simplistic national myth--the "real " American, gun in hand--a simplistic economic myth--prop up the banks and the market economy will right itself, fight more and more wars, invade more and more countries and America will be safe--BUT there is another air to breath, where not too much is very simple--people are loosing their jobs and their homes in huge numbers even while the banks soak up dollar after dollar of redistributed wealth--from us to them, where we take responsibility for our international actions and begin to understand how we author hatred-Millions it seems have found this oxygen of hope; now if one more vote can be squeezed out for Obama, let's find it--if one more cynical non voter can be pulled into the conversation, then pull, pull. In our window here on Fitzgibbon Avenue, I have put up downloaded Obama signs--and the would-be bumper sticker, Another Jew for Obama. Lonely, they look out at an Australian street, the face of another nation's dilemma, but they are my contribution to the blooming bottle brushes and kangaroo paws, my own flowers of a brave national dreaming that have accompanied me across the oceans.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Nancy's Visit in My Dream Time--2

Nancy Johnson's Poster for LHA, "Mary Jane Taylor: Friend of Mabel Hampton, 1930,"/In Memory of the Voices We Have Lost/Enjai Graphics, 1980
Death takes away people's lives so quickly, friends whom we assume are getting on with their lives and then the word comes, "Nancy Johnson died in Sweden." So many years later. I knew she had been doing healing work overseas, in the northern countries. Then a packet of photographs left at LHA from Dinah, the few fragments of our friendship. And last night, after not sleeping well and after weeks of not feeling well, in my early morning sleep, Nancy enters a large almost empty house, I am sitting in my chair--and she drags suitcases by me, "aren't you going to help me?" and feeling immediately guilty, I leap up and follow her out the door, determined to lighten her load, but it is too late. The next moment Nancy is lying on a pallet, close to death, a cancer death, and I am bending tightly over her, seeing the toll so much has taken on her--her face, pinched and wide eyed, almost touches mine. Here in Australia, into the early morning I see my old friend when I did not see her, in her extremity, this woman who had struggled to rescue so many, now I see in her depleted need. And I think of how many times she needed to be relieved of her burdens and I was not there.
And all day she has been with me. All the Nancys I knew--her laugh, her belief that some divine spirits can walk above the earth, her pitching in to cook for mobs in the New Hope kitchens, her body, large breasted and slim waisted, with whom she did not always feel at home, her scars from too much of one thing and not enough of others--her determination to take on her "missions," her love of her sisters and their children, of her own found children. Her down home turn of a phrase. I remember the visit, in the 70s I think, I made with Nancy and Dinah to Salt Lake City to meet their families or what remained of them.
Nancy speaking of her childhood, what she had to flee from and her rage at a cousin who sat me up on one of his palomino horses, an under- exercised horse bursting with life, and let it run wild with me on a race track--a massive animal power under me, muscles bursting out from oaten skin, a hundred times I almost died, my whole body thrown over the horse's shoulders--but somehow the man had had his fun and caught up with us and slowed his vibrant animal down. I can still remember the terror in my thighs as I willed myself not to let go, not to fall head over head under the animal's hoofs. Perhaps he was showing this New York gal what real life was like. And the vet, who held Nancy's cat by the scuff of his neck, as he slashed the abscess open--"never met a Jew," before he said. The extreme domesticity of her mother's life, the doilies, the cakes, the cookies, the never ending cooking, the thick limbs from hard work. From Selma, Alabama to the Lower East Side of New York, from the first walk the three of us took together as I showed them the gay Village, to the doors of the old Firehouse on Wooster Street, through the thick organizing years of the 70s and early 80s, to the streets of Parkslope and Nancy and Dinah's rough hewn apartment with the sleeping loft, so dangerous in its own way, through all the years passing down until this morning in West Brunswick, Melbourne, Australia.
I once extolled the gift of touch, and I still do--Nancy layed on hands to ease the human heart and now far from old friends, and through the motes of memories, I cherish her. When I saw that image of Nancy, the one you have seen, with her arm around me, and heard of her death, I knew both that all the years of separation were real and yet there I was, back on 9th street, sitting at the round wooden table listening to Nancy, her long legs tucked under her, telling me tales of the West and the hopes she had for their sojourn in the East. This journal, my writing, means nothing if it does not keep alive those human spirits who in their courage and difference, in their play and their visions, in their touch and in their stumbles, brought all the wonders of life to me.

Nancy Visits in Dream Time

Mabel Hampton at the LHA table, c.1980

Nancy Johnson and Joan at a

meeting of the Lesbian Illness

Support Group, NYC, 1970s

I learned from Mabel Hampton to honor the visitations of the dead in our dreams. She swore by the power of the elements--whether they be a house number or white cat or a book left open--that made their way into her sleep, her time of real visions. I do not have Mabel's dream book, the one that helped her decipher the nightly messages--and often led to just the right number being played--but Nancy's presence was so strong last night, I do not need another text. So much pushes at me to write about on this miracle of shared remembering--the contemporary rending of the heart as I read Mamoud Darwish's writing and enter deeper and deeper into the anguish of exile, the hurly burly of the elections, the wonders of queer history--but as my friends become my dreams, as I count my losses--Joyce Warshow, Sonny Wainwright, Max Feldman, Mabel, and always Carol--I think I must touch them into life again. And now Nancy, Nancy Johnson, a friend I met in Selma, Alabama on the civil rights march into Montgomery in 1965--and her partner then, Dinah--of whom I will not speak because she might not desire it.

I will write a longer piece about Nancy, the first Mormon lesbian I had ever met, a Mormon on the run from the homophobia of her Utah world but who maintained a connection to the world of her spirits her whole life. Nancy, the printer, the first woman I knew who worked the huge presses and had to fight for every job--Nancy who designed and printed LHA's first and only poster at her own small designing firm, EnJai Graphics. Nancy, the foster mother of two generations of lost children, Nancy, the healer who embraced her ill friends as she is doing here--who fought her own cancer by fighting for all of us. I remember one evening in the 70s it must have been--I am lying on the kitchen floor--ill with Chronic Fatigue--and Nancy is conducting a long distance healing session via the phone. She has gathered the white light of many friends and is sending it all to me, she says right into my ear. Now as some of you may know, I am no believer in such things, even scented candles drive me up a wall, but for Nancy I would lie on any floor and put my body in her hands.

The glorious years when we all lived in that wonderful tenement building on East 9th Street between 1st and Avenue A--the late 60s. Dinah and Nancy on the top floor and me on the first, our bathrooms in the hall. The Christmas mornings when these two Western women would invite me up to open the holiday gift box from Nancy's mother which always included sweets for me, their New York Jewish friend. Before 9th street Nancy and Dinah lived with me in my small apartment on 6th Street--where robberies were more frequent then pay checks. We were lesbian adventurers doing new things--opening bookstores on streets that had never seen one before, forming lesbian consciousness raising groups, launching new political and cultural groups. Over the years, our lives took different turns. The last time I remember seeing Nancy was when she visited with two small rambunctious children, the sons of Crystal, if I remember correctly, Lee and me at Black Slip Hollow in the western Catskills. Nancy loaded down with diapers and baby food, wearing the form hugging short shorts she fancied and her tank top--I must post this now before I loose it--to be continued

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A Reader

A rare moment of green and stream, outside of Melbourne, in a town called Warrandyte
Thank you, Rose, for your response. Yes, I am here--you can always reach me--here and worried and hopeful as so many of us are--these will be a very long two weeks. Joan

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


the shed at the back of the garden with Ceil's sign and the old farm window La Professora found for us and the visting parrots feasting

Professora and Cello on the St Kilda bay wall, last week

I can barely breath sometimes when I am watching American news here--this election results is so important, that Obama and Biden be elected is so important I can barely breath--I have volunteered with Democrats Abroad--Australia calling ex-pats to make sure we all have received our absentee ballots--hearing those American voices, all with huge hopes about this election. When my own ballot arrived in the mail, I handled it carefully, as if it were a huge check or a slightly feared medical report--that official looking envelope carrying my minute of participation in the vote, the small white oval waiting for my mark--in the bright light of our Australian kitchen--my mark to be made along with so many of us who live beyond the borders of our country of birth, of citizenship. Then after rereading and rereading the instructions to make sure I had done nothing wrong, I sealed the envelope, called out to Cello, took up my cane and together, my lurching, he waiting, walked the four blocks, crossed busy Dawson Avenue with its rumbling trams to the red post box. It all seemed so simple in the bright morning light, but as my vote became another piece of daily mail, a sadness came over me--so tangential I was to one of the biggest dramas of my country, of my time--what will this America be in the next years, what face will it wear--the old air force pilot just aching for a fight as an admiring William Bennet glowingly described McCain on the Fox propaganda channel or the "too professorial" man who walked Chicago's needful streets as Obama was summarized by another commentator. An old fight or new thoughts, fighting or thinking--never this simple, but how one form of American masculinity describes its yearnings--I thought of another man, another presidential candidate, who was defined as too professorial, Adelai Stevenson, his worn shoes up on his desk as he leaned back in his office chair, reading a book. Too thoughtful and America turned away. Not this time! I let the envelope fall into the red mouth and pressed the traffic button to signal the cars to stop long enough for Cello and me to safely cross. Sadness at distances is useless at times; my vote is in the air. That is all that matters.

A group of us will watch the election returns at a pub here set up for day long and early evening vigil. Your night will be my day, and the sun and stars will watch over our very real dream time.

On Redistributing the Wealth: As McCain and others of the Right went on ranting about Obama's plan to tax the rich, I thought America has always redistributed the wealth--never more so then we took the very land that became America from its indigenous peoples. When we kidnapped, bought and stole Africans from Africa, we redistributed the wealth--productive citizens of African nations became forced labor for the production of wealth of this one. Just think a little more.

I have just found waiting for me on our front verandah the books I have ordered from the States--the poetry of Mahmoud Darwish, the Palestinian poet--his titles alone call to our hearts: "Memory for Forgetfullness," "Unfortunately, It Was Paradise," "Victims of a Map." I am preparing for another public talk at the Brunswick Library, like the one I did two years ago on difference--this one is to be about the concept of home and reading--but I have found my reading taking me to the theme of exiles--two poets, Oslip Mandelstam and Mahmour Darwish, will be my text--the exiled Jew and the exiled Palestinian.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Behind me the rising hysteria of the CNN commentator fills the house: I keep CNN international on now during the day so I am never far away from the international news, the spilling over of the flood of economic decline. Being an American, a New Yorker in a different part of the world right now is a disturbing experience. New York's Wall Street is often seen here as the epicenter of all that went wrong: Bush's White House was a joke but now the whole world seems to be falling into the sink hole of American greed. Many I speak with here shake their heads in disbelieve that so many would even think of voting for McCain and Palin--I just left the computer to see a screaming mass of Republican Americans calling on McCain to go "nuclear" on Obama. The language of mass destruction is now the language of our Democracy. Our country is divided by this election to a dangerous extent. American Fascism is the blue shirted trooper warming up the Palin-McCain crowds, inciting hatred of the Afro-American candidate whose middle name is Hussain. All the makings of a massive national failure of democratic vision are here--and like at other times, alliances are formed for the worst of reasons, like the Republican Jewish Coalition, throwing all senses of history to the wind, and aligning themselves with the largest haters of difference in the country--just as long as they say nice things about Israel. I think as a Jew, every time Wall Street becomes the code word for all that is wrong, Jews are not far away. How can we be making alliances with those who have so profited from national arrogance. Again, I am pulled into the lounge--the reporter says that the racial hatred that is pouring out of the McCain crowds, has gone too far--voices calling out "kill him! kill him!"

I am on the other side of the world now, but all I have cared deepest about in my lifetime is up for grabs now--a madness of fear and anger, a country so used to being the most powerful, to having the largest armies, the largest houses, dropping the most bombs--may not be able to find its humane self in such a moment of profound national and international failure. No matter how far away I am, I am there on New York's streets with all of you, a 68 year old fem queer woman who knows a crack in the earth's surface of shared human dignity when she sees one.
I have a dear friend, a young artist, Jeanine Olsen, who will take to the streets of New York to breath another kind of air down the city's canyons: The Greater New York Smudge Cleanse. Another air to breath, the gift of artists, our moments of hope. Join her if you can--if not take pleasure in her act of creation.

Contact: Jeanine Oleson
September 31, 2008 New York, NY The Greater New York Smudge Cleanse, a public
art project by Jeanine Oleson, will waft through the streets of New York City. Witness the
world’s largest sage smudge stick ritualistically cleansing evil from New York City at four
different sites in October and November. This traveling public art project applies the ancient
practice of smoking out dormant bad energies to contemporary challenges including
environmental pollution in Greenpoint and Gowanus Canal, Brooklyn; gentrification driving queer
communities out of Manhattan’s West Village; and pre-election anxiety/U.S. economic
imperialism on the steps of Federal Hall. Each event will include a procession followed by a
gathering with food and community organizations, activists, researchers and performers including
the Gowanus Dredger's Canoe Club, Newtown Creek Alliance, and a tea party at the Stonewall
Inn. Each event will last about three hours.
Sat., Oct. 11 Greenpoint, Brooklyn, 1 pm
Meet at the corner of Norman Ave. and Apollo St.
Sat., Oct. 18 Gowanus Canal, Brooklyn, 1 pm
Meet at 2nd St. and Bond St.
Sat., Oct. 25 West Village, Manhattan, 1pm
Meet at Pier 45, east picnic benches
Mon., Nov. 3 Federal Hall, Manhattan, 1 pm
Meet on the front steps, 26 Wall St.
Maps and up-to-date information including rain dates will be available at the website:
Smudging is an ancient practice of cleansing space with smoke from bundled sage Oleson’s
project seeks to cleanse New York and it's residents of eco-destruction, election anxiety,
gentrification, heterosexism, U.S. imperialism, classism, racism and greed. The world's largest sage
smudge stick was built in New Mexico, where sage grows plentifully. It is 10 feet long -
"Supersized" to combat negativity in contemporary times. Before this momentous series of
events, the smudge stick was exhibited in shows at John Connelly Presents (NY) and L.A.C.E.
Jeanine Oleson is an artist whose practice incorporates interdisciplinary uses of performance,
film/video, installation, and photographic work, often collaboratively. She attended the School of
the Art institute of Chicago, Rutgers University, and Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture.
Oleson has exhibited at venues including: Lump Gallery, Raleigh, NC; Monya Rowe Gallery, NY;
Samson Projects, Boston; John Connelly Presents, NY; Bates College Museum of Art, ME;
Pumphouse Gallery, London; and Art in General, NY. Her work has been recently published in
Performa: New Visual Art Performance, DAP 2007, Cryptozoology: Out of Time Place Scale,
2007, and LTTR V: Positively Nasty, 2006.
For more information, contact Jeanine Oleson at 917-453-0235 or nycsmudge@gmail.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Our Streets

Thank you, my femme sister. It is late here tonight in an early spring Melbourne--La Professora walks our Cello down gum tree lined Fitzgibbon Avenue, a very short avenue it is--running three blocks from Dawson Street to Union--I know streets that mean nothing to my old world--all our streets. I have finished calling ex pat registered Democrats to make sure they have gotten their absentee ballots--the debate on CNN, doing shallow breathing the whole time--so much rest on this election. Read all of Sherry's forwarded progressive statements--signed the petition asking the Republican Jewish Coalition to stop spreading their hatred--my people, my people--how has it come to this--Brooks, Kristol, all the Jewish conservative nice boys--full of their respectabilities and their fears of losing privileges--showing how Rovian they can be--these are not the Jews I grew up with--with so little of material comfort but rich in rages at economic and racial injustices--my menches. Still alive in the spirit of those who are organizing the schlepper campaign--schleppe to Florida if you have grandparents there, and counter the fear campaign against Obama--have a cup of tea, and talk talk about the manipulation of Jewish fear.

I am tired too night, but I just wanted to let you know, sublime fem, that I have received your words. Responses to my writing are rare and so I thank you for the time you took to read and write. And Lepa, you are always in my heart--your streets, the streets of Belgrade and Sarajevo, connect to my little avenue in my heart, in my sense of history.

Monday, October 6, 2008

A gift from Lepa--her blooms
[my computer failed-I continue Lepa's letter of Ocober 5, 2008)

Bosnian mountains, and then it meant we were stuck for two more hours, so we travelled 7+2=9 hours to Sarajevo. ok. We arrived there to see that all the bus and tram stops in town are filled with huge posters against homosexuals as devils of this society! Just like Jews in 1941 in this same town! ah!!! I wanted to tear them done but they stuck the walls, impossible. They had done their work seriously.

...The next day, I entered the local bus to go to the first Q opening event, young boys were shouting at the back of the bus, and I was frightened again. In that moment I found your words in my pocket. The young shouting boys left at another bus stop, and I was so fixed to the idea they were going to the same event as me to beat us up, that I could not believe that they were not!

I am writing it all to you because the mechanisms of fear are incredible, you work on them days, monthys, you work on them for years and still they pop from your fragile body, the threats are so effective.

The rest you know generally. The opening of the Srajevo Queer Festival was a success!! around 300 people came and this was the first time in history that such an event happened!! These 300 were generally young and alternative, artists, etc, most of them hetero supporters. All of us LGBT guests were well organized ot leave that place that was surrounded by 150 fascists (half soccer fans, half religious fanatics ready to beat us up) so we went by the back door and took taxies. But obviously it was not like that for ordinary citizens--10 were injured.

...The four lesbian organizers were all totally exhausted, they had not slept for three days--and many more things afterward, first of all many threatening letters after the event, then they had to move out of the flat where the office was, then 2 of them had to leave the flat where they lived...3 of them are worried for their mothers who are worried for them! 3 mothers are worrying day and night.

Generally I think the situation is calming a little bit now. They have some support--but who undertands lesbians and queers--other then ourselves?

Through my friend's words, through her "ah!" I hear our history being made, our history living its connections to other wars, to other shunnings, to other bodies. Those so tired young women, threatened in so many ways, are a part of all of us now--whatever safeties we have, their fear must be our concern.

The Bruising of Our Hearts

So much happens that pushes at me--public things I am speaking of. In the "old days", I spoke of the push of my lover's hands; now I live in the storm of my times--Lepa's words from Belgrade and Sarajevo, Hannah and Dalia's imagined words from Haifa, the American politicians' words of dead hearted patriotisms, words carrying the bruised lesbian-queer body, the bruised generous Jewish self that sickens at the sight of Palestinians living behind caged balconies and cemented closed doors so that a few hundred settlers can have comfort while thousands of others are trapped in their homes, the bruising of the hopes of women in places where a bullet waits for a woman who has stepped out of line by serving her country--lighten up a friend says and I wonder if my living of these moments is self centered--but I must hear these words, and I must tell them--the stories of threats and resistances, the bruising of the human heart in my time. I though I would write every day--but sometimes the weight pushes me away from the little screen that opens to such a hugeness of human space--and so many of you are writing so smart, the keys flying under your fingers as you parse the imbecilities of power.

On Sunday, October 21, Lepa writes (after the beatings of gay people in Belgrade):

I was thinking non stop about the phase we are in, at least in this region in relation to our lesbian and gay bodies, about our queer politics and non-hetero decisions and lives.

Last night the party was well organized because
1: there was more police then before
2. everyone left in groups in taxis, because we don't have cars among us here, a mostly young population so safe organizing meant
--police protection
--organized returning (because they wait until we are finished to beat us up--this was the case in many towns in the last few years, after the parades, the events

So this morning woke up thinking, ok,that's what we need to do. Politicians when they go to their conferences also have police around them and enter their cars after their conferences, that's livable. It is not what we want, but that's better then broken bodies!
And I got a two pages of instructions for safety during the First Queer Festival in Sarajevo next week! They are so scared there, bomb threats have been announced, etc, etc, so we practically are not allowed to walk in Sarajevo during the festival.

You know, the first reading of any danger to lesbians I read in your butch-femme essay, I was so young then and did not imagine why it would be a danger at all--so reading those images how butches and femmes took the back streets to lesbian bars...was impressive, ah!
For my buba mara Bronx para siempre, Lepa

Sunday, October 5, 2008, 6:31 pm

Ah dear friend,
It was like this: before the Sarajevo conference, different journalists who wrote positively about the queer festival got threatening letters together with organisers--4 young lesbians who never organized anything similar. The threatening letters said that "they will not be safe in workplace, on the street nor in the family or when they are awake or in sleep" !!!
So of course, some women were too afraid and did not come to Sarajevo, from the lesbian guest list, and of course, the organizers could not sleep afterwards, but felt that maybe the "enemies" would appear through the door, the window, the chimney...no help! then, they sent us the letter to inform us about his--and I read it before going to Sarajevo, and entered myself into fear for one entire day. I knew as a counselor that his is my old fear, and that this is a passing emotion, but nevertheless it took me some time to soothe it!

Then we travelled to Sarajevo, five of us, and talked in the bus in a good mood---there was an accident on the road in the beautiful rainy